Comic Fodder

DC Universe Decisions: The Complication of Lois Lane

I'm a left-leaning Democrat who votes.

See how that works? Half of you just shut down on me.

And, it was about as subtle as a sledgehammer.

But I think that same sort of reaction many have to politics, and/ or political leanings is exactly why DC, and Dan Didio in particular, made a mistake with "DC Decisions". If they don't understand that readers (especially obsessive fanboy readers who stick to evidence and items like this in comics like glue) make snap, lifelong decisions based on stated political and value systems, they're kidding themselves. And they're kidding themselves about how that is going to affect their readership.

I also mention my political leanings as it DOES paint not just how I read the series, but how I would wind up criticizing what I read. I'm not going for an unbiased perspective here, so much as I'm trying to make a point regarding POV of the reader when you come to this series.

Agree with or disagree with my politics (I live in Texas. I'm used to my vote disappearing beneath the wave of GOP votes), but see how your viewpoint my stack up against mine and how we view and define the characters of the DCU.

DC Universe: Decisions came out last week, and it's every bit as disappointing as I assumed it might be.

To be clear, DCU: Decisions is a cheap publicity stunt. It's intended to supposedly define DC's superheroes in a real world context, but, really, the value and depth of the political discussion displays little more than stereotypes and un-nuanced discourse.

Because he's been the only character who really out-and-out stated his political leanings, Green Arrow is awkwardly made into the catalyst for what will be other characters proclaiming their affiliations. Ollie has to act like a bit of a dupe in order for the series to even get rolling.

Now, I'm not sure there's a war in Iraq (or Qurac, the all-purpose DC Middle-Wast stand-in) going on in the DCU. I am fairly certain 9/11 occurred as it seems they would wish to reflect real world events to that degree. The candidates of the series are not McCain and Obama, which leaves the reader unable to know where on the spectrum the candidates stand, except in case of extreme political and personal caricature. Also, the series is complicated by the fact that it seems to be primary season and not the final election cycle as the story unfolds, so there are multiple candidates. There is no indication of the economy of the DCU, social issues, immigration (after all, aliens walk the streets in the DCU), or religious and/ or super-terrorism. Present social programs, etc... all seem unknown.

Nor is there mention that the guy who was voted in a while back turned super-criminal (Lex), and the next president was hinted at being compromised by super-espionage.

What is going to be interesting, in a "watch the car wreck" sort of way, will be DC trying to shock the reader with character twists and turns as they reveal themselves to vote one way when their character (maybe for simplicity's sake, but... we do have 70 years of DCU we're working with here...) seems to have swung a different way.

Lois Lane:

What can I say? I'm a product of my upbringing. I'm proudly for a strong military, small government, low taxes, an maximum individual freedom.

Readers can look at this a few ways.

Lois Lane never outwardly states "I'm voting Republican", but outlines her issues of choice as pretty standard Republican boilerplate. From a Republican point-of-view, t's a routine assumption to believe that voting for a Democrat means that you don't believe in a strong military or national defense.

As I mentioned, DC is going for pigeon holes here, not nuanced belief systems in which voters cast the ballot on other issues, such as healthcare, etc... while still believing the US needs to wage a war in Iraq.

The point of this is not that I want to spur a political debate, but rather express exasperation that the comic (and even as I type "comic", I think about how 90% of the populace would be completely unshocked at the lack of subtlety in a comic discussing politics) doesn't entirely give us insight into Lois's voting record, but it DOES seem to be a ham-handed clue as to what the writers were trying to say with short-hand, while also trying to keep from committing in ink.

Traditionally, the concept of investigative journalism (which has been Lois's bag since very, very early on) has been seen as the "liberal media bias" with which conservatives take issue. And, she does spend time off-camera taking down Senators, corporations, etc... and generally being the world's best investigative reporter. So some of that boils down to whether you buy into principles of investigative journalism that are traditionally pinned to a liberal viewpoint, or whether investigative journalism supersedes party affiliation.

I'm all for blowing stereotypes, and some part of me buys into Lois Lane: conservative. And part of me thinks: well, this isn't really in keeping with the Lois of the comics of the past 30-40 years. When did all of these things come to the forefront, and didn't she make a career blowing the lid off the Lex Luthor military industrial complex?

Yes, the writers could point to "she's from a military family", but just as I think her status as reporter insists a certain persuasion, so too do I think military affiliation absolutely shouldn't be used as an obvious determining factor.

But, the real issue is that the authors are handling the series so clumsily, you're sort of forced to read Lane's comments as an assertion of throwing in with the GOP.

To complicate things, the series is NOT going to let Superman state party affiliation. And, like Lois Lane, assuming Superman is a party loyalist to either party is greatly dumbing down the character and painting Kal-El with a lot of preconceptions the reader is bringing to the table rather than how he's been presented.

The authors are insisting that Clark isn't telling Lois who he's voting for in order to insinuate how much he values his secret ballot. But knowing what we know about Lois, regardless of party affiliation, it seems deeply unlikely that her convictions would just fall by the wayside (and they would be convictions... this is Lois Lane, after all) as part of her romantic decision making process just because this is Superman. It doesn't ring true for a real-life marriage (to not know, not to differ), and I doubt that Lois Lane WOULDN'T know after knowing, loving and living with the man. And if she doesn't know... what sort of life are the Lane/Kents living?

I just don't buy "the Kent-Lane's at home talking politics" scene at all. At all. And I think it's a bit of shoddy writing.

Readers will note that the series is co-written by two authors on polar ends of the spectrum (to give it balance) Willingham (Conservative) and Judd Winick (Not so Conservative), and edited by Dan Didio.

Having Didio on as editor is telling, as its one more example of Didio forcing an event. No doubt, an event he was hoping would draw attention to DC Comics by mainstream press due to the "controversial" nature of the series, as Marvel has been able to do with series like "Truth". However, it doesn't seem the press bit. And, instead, Didio is left with a series which is going to do little but polarize his already small, divisive audience, and upset readers who feel that the series' writers fundamentally do not understand the characters they love/ spend their money on as DC intends to surprise readers with the secret ideals of characters they've followed for years.

For example: the series posits that Wonder Woman's criteria for choosing a leader is whether or not the leader is a warrior. Yes, the Amazons are fighters, but they also have lived in peace for 3000 years with one another, protected from discovery by gods. And sent their only begotten daughter to Man's World to convince them that Mankind should learn to live in Peace. Surely Diana would see many, many other attributes as valuable as well as preparedness for war.

And this is being edited by DC's current head... No wonder DC can't get a decent Wonder Woman book out the door these days...

Why DC decided to let Superman and, most likely, Batman off the hook while giving Wonder Woman a voice, I don't know.

But, ultimately, its going to get worse before it gets better. Superman will be made a political eunuch, unable to state any actual values aside from "Truth and Justice" lest either real-world party find themselves not wanting to buy t-shirts and coffee mugs with his logo on them. Same goes for Batman, who already became a political pawn this summer as both parties tried to claim Bats as their own in the wake of the success and messages regarding sacrifice in times of danger present in "The Dark Knight".

Superman will, no doubt, have some speech on how great it is to be an American (eat that, Canadians!), and how we all have choice, and that's the most important/ impotent thing. And that somehow NOT speaking your mind in a free society is terribly noble. And, again, this will get DC off the hook from having Superman have an opinion. Which is kind of okay, but sort of defeats the point of the series, no?

For reader's peace of mind (and to avoid some stunningly inconsistent and rushed art), I suggest avoiding the series altogether. It's going to have as much impact on the DCU as Amazons Attack!. Unfortunately, the casualties will be the fanboys who will have to put up with whatever spin Didio and Co. have decided to put on their favorite heroes, turning them from a character without boundaries into the stereotypes we paint of one another during the political season.

The cover of issue #1 was altered via Photoshop to include a supposedly spray painted tag across a poster of Green Arrow posing with the self-identified Liberal candidate, reading "Heroes Don't Vote".

the whole thing reminds me of when Didio, hearing internet churning regarding the perceived sexism of the Supergirl comics trotted Supergirl editor Eddie Berganza out for the DC Nation column, and Berganza demonstrated he and Didio had no concept of the problem. Here's my column about the incident,. I was not the only one, by far, to ask "what the hell?" regarding the incident.

In the aftermath: The DC Nation column is gone from the internet, and Berganza was swiftly removed from the title. Make of that what you will.

And so it probably will be with DC Decisions. Didio continues with Ahab-like pursuit of his ideas in the face of common sense, unwittingly splintering his own fanbase while pleasing absolutely nobody with a series that, for all intents and purposes, serves no real function.

The only real controversy will be the "surprise" political leanings of various characters (expect another one or two before series end, I'd guess), and not the media attention the series will ultimately fail to receive. Unfortunately, what DC and Didio aren't getting is that the surprises aren't welcome, and we've always sort of enjoyed the insinuated discussions between characters that define them and what they believe. Even more extreme examples such as the classic GA/ GL "on the road" run wasn't so much about political leanings as responsibility for social and domestic issues as relevant to superheroes, vs. flying off to the Moons of Mongo for the 100th time.

It's not that I don't want to know that Lois is voting for McCain in November. It's that I want a darn good reason why if DC is going to take the time to insist I should know who she's voting for. "A product of my upbringing doesn't cut it", even as a quick excuse. We have 70 years of a very complicated character who has been a flag waver, a feminist, an embedded military reporter, a romance advice columnist, a kung fu martial artist, an investigative reporter, and so many things... Why do this now?

What does DC have to gain?

No doubt DC believed themselves to be breaking some molds, etc... with decalring Lois' party affiliation. And, honestly, I don't really care one way or another how they wish to define her going forward. As long as they stay on course with the character and keep her the same tough-as-nails figure she always ahs been, without sliding into some goofy "well, now she's Ann Coulter!" cartoon of conservativism.

Honestly, given the lack of traction the series picked up, and the negativity preceding the series, I'm surprised DC bothered to set it to print. But that's DC these days...


Questions? Comments? Hate mail?

Come on, I can take it.

=======


Ryan is an Op/Ed columnist for Comic Fodder. He keeps his comics and himself in Austin, Texas where he manages the long running blog League of Melbotis.

He likes Superman.

You can reach Ryan (aka: The League) at theleague.cf@gmail.com

I agree completely. I read the first issue out of curiosity, but like you found the political discourse crude and did not buy the Lois/Clark relationship. It's one thing for a couple to disagree politically, but to not even know your spouse's views? Come on.

And painting Lois as a conservative seems very forced. I'd believe Batman or Hal Jordan, but not Lois Lane. Isn't she a star reporter at the DCU version of the New York Times?

Very clumsy writing, and does not approach relevant political commentary. No good will come of this. If DC has any sense, they will quietly end the series and pretend it never happened.

PS I don't think 9/11 happened in the DCU. It happened in the Marvel universe, but I think DC used the aftermath of Our Worlds At War to draw parallels to the mood of the nation following 9/11. There is certainly no War on Terror.

-- Posted by: Stuart at September 23, 2008 10:20 AM

Hey, Stuart. I do recall Our Worlds at War wrapping at the same time as 9/11 (I think we all remember details like that about those days and weeks), so that seems plausible.

I agree that Lois's position seems forced. And I don't expect its the last we'll see.

In fact, we should really challenge people to come up with some goofy, unexpected twists. Despero as a big Kucinich supporter?

A bit of housekeeping: I'm out of town as of this moment and won't be able to check e-mail, this site in my usual manner. So, bear with me if I seem a bit slow to respond.

-- Posted by: Ryan at September 23, 2008 7:20 PM

As a business, DC is rather stupid to even bring up the specific political affiliations of its characters. I don't want to read about a conservative Lois Lane. Conservatives do NOT believe in maximum individual freedom because of the constant belief that we should be regulated by their idea of "morality."

And I've never heard a Democrat say "I'm all for a weak military." How absurd.

I read comics to escape reality, not to have it pushed back into my face. I'm sure this is true for many readers no matter their political views. With so much to deal with in the real world, why would I want to escape into the same thing?

Politicizing characters is a great way to lose readership. DC seems to be wanting less readers, not more, with their choices over the last few years.

-- Posted by: DC at September 23, 2008 11:57 PM

Well, I for one, DC, if that is indeed your real name, am all for maximum individual freedom. God created you with free will. Your choices are your choices. Just understand the result of the consequences, and we're ok.

Bruce Wayne's a Republican. Everyone knows that. Batman may be a Democrat. It comes downto whomever is writing him at the time, actually.

-- Posted by: Mike Shields at September 24, 2008 11:29 AM

I think this highlights the difficulty DC Comics was facing in tackling politics in a genre that exists outside of the world we know. We're discussing a world we know in the context of a place with Billionaires who dress up as bats and punch out criminals with no due process.

But... By dealing in political short hand, misconceptions, stereotypes, etc... as the first issue CLEARLY did (which led to the above conversation), DC is mucking in some territory that, honestly, they may not be qualified to touch.

Nor should they.

Part of why superheroes work is that they address and work on the basic premises that most people agree on. Aliens shouldn't conquer earth. Psychopaths shouldn't be able to poison the water supply. Corporate overlords shouldn't be able to use their power for graft, corruption and building power armor to kill Superman.

I don't know if I believe politics have no place in comics, but this sort of blunt approach as seen in DCU Decisions isn't sophisticated enough to provide a story that will do much but clumsily reinforce stereotypes. It won't be able to really explore those misconceptions. And, worse, its putting words in the mouths of its characters that seem as if they don't match the VALUES of the characters as presented since the 1940's, its as difficult as how none of us like being spoken for by the party we're less likely to vote for.

I don't want to get into too much political debate here. But I think anyone knows what its like to hear pundits talk about how "Democrats want to appease terrorists" or "Republicans want to end freedom". So let's keep it in perspective here. Both for these characters and for each other.

You know... hug it out, ya'll.

-- Posted by: Ryan at September 24, 2008 2:13 PM

Maybe they did this on purpose to get us sniping at each other, so we would stop talking about how lousy their books are?

-TP

-- Posted by: tpull at September 24, 2008 10:09 PM

Sadly, I am pretty sure this was Didio's idea of how to present a "relevant" DC for an adult audience.

The guy just needs to quit cooking up his own ideas if this, Countdown and Amazons Attack! are the end result.

-- Posted by: Ryan at September 25, 2008 6:31 AM